“Do it, Robby, do it!”
If I could pinpoint my favorite moment in any Doors song, it would probably be this one: Jim Morrison, a famously spontaneous (among … other adjectives) bard of a frontman, getting so excited to hear Robby Krieger’s guitar solo in “Roadhouse Blues” that he shouts an intro prior to the first chord. Krieger, as always, shreds the hell out of his solo, while Ray Manzarek puts a spell over the keyboards and John Densmore whacks his drums into jazzy submission. The quartet’s ensuing sounds are chaotic, psychedelic, kind of mythical, very divisive — basically the Doors’ ethos, and also a hard slap in the face to the folk music coming a few miles north out of Los Angeles. But that might just be the acid talking.
We’re not here to argue if the Doors are the best worst band or the worst best band, a particularly pervasive mentality that has accelerated over the past few years as the band ebbed and flowed through critical reevaluation. (I, obviously, like them quite a lot.) Krieger, who’s just as compelling as a writer as he is with his vast carousel of Gibsons, has now penned his first memoir, Set the Night on Fire, which will be released October 12. This isn’t a surprise for Doors fans, of course, as Krieger wrote or co-wrote some of the band’s most popular songs, including “Touch Me,” “Light My Fire,” and “Love Her Madly.” But besides the treasure trove of new Doors anecdotes in his memoir, the guitarist and singer-songwriter candidly reveals many other personal stories about “living and dying,” including his account of a serious heroin addiction that he was able to overcome in the ’80s.
One recent afternoon, Vulture gave Krieger a call — us in a New York office, him in a car in California — and a new Superlatives interview ensued.
Best Doors song
Well, there are so many good ones, but lately my favorite is “L.A. Woman” because of the way we recorded it. We just started jamming and the song came together. With most of our songs, either Jim would write it or I would write it, or Jim and I would write it together. But this time it was more of a jam. We had these great session players for the L.A. Woman album — Jerry Scheff on bass and Marc Benno on rhythm guitar. Somehow that song just came together. I’m sure Jim had a few of the lyrics before about, say, Los Angeles and being a woman. I don’t think he was talking about a real woman, but he was talking about the city and thinking about it as a woman. Anyway, it’s just really fun to play that song.
But [my favorites] do change. Of course “Light My Fire” is one and still is, because that was the first song I ever wrote. Basically it’s been downhill ever since. [Laughs.] I was at my new house; I had been living at my parents’ house up until then, where me and Jim had been writing. He was the songwriter, but we realized, Hey, we’re going to need more original songs. We used to do cover songs as well as originals and we had maybe a dozen songs that he had written up to that point. So Jim said to the three of us, “I want you guys to try writing; we’re short on songs here.” So I said, “Okay, well, what should I write about?” And he said, “Write about something universal, something that won’t go out of style, say, next year or whatever.” I had heard of the terms earth, air, fire, and water — those being the four basic elements. I figured, Okay, I’ll write about one of those things. I always loved that song “Play With Fire” by the Rolling Stones, so I wrote “Light My Fire” thinking of that. It didn’t take long, maybe a couple days.
Most regrettable Doors song
There’s a couple that I’m not crazy about, but the one that I never really got was “My Wild Love.” My wild love went riding, she rode all the day. It had a bunch of us doing background vocals. We were doing tambourines and stuff. It’s kind of like a chant more than a song. It just didn’t sound like the Doors to me. I never really liked it. Funny enough, one day our bodyguard said, “Hey, you know my favorite Doors song? ‘My Wild Love.’” So I responded, “Oh shit, man, I hate that song.”
Best song to listen to on acid
Oh boy. I think any of them would be good, but the ones I always liked on acid, besides “Light My Fire,” was “The End.” It’s always pretty good on acid, even though it deals with some pretty crazy stuff. The whole deal was that when we recorded that song, Jim was on a huge dose of acid and he had an Oedipus complex. He was really dealing with that at the time. Shortly before we recorded it, he came up with that [line] about fucking the mother and killing the father. That part got put into the song a couple weeks earlier when we were playing at the Whiskey. That’s just a really acidy song. Especially to me, because I know Jim was so messed up that night on acid.
Song that gave you the most enlightenment
There’s a song called “Take It As It Comes” from our first album. When we used to go to see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi speak, he would always use that phrase, “to take it as it comes.” John and I would use that line once in a while when we were hanging around with Jim and Ray. I guess that’s where Jim got the words for the song, because I didn’t write them. I thought that was pretty cool. One time I took Jim to see Maharishi because Jim wasn’t a real meditator type. He was just starting on his — not on his whole journey, but his acid stuff. So, every time I hear that song it reminds me of meditation and enlightenment.
Song that confuses the most listeners
Jim always told me that when you write a song, you want each person that hears it to get something different out of it. Don’t make it obvious. I think “Light My Fire” is the winner because so many people have come up to me and said, “Oh yeah, that’s about smoking joints, right?” Or, “That’s about your love life, right?” This one meditator guy a few years ago, which I thought was the coolest interpretation, came up to me and said, “Yeah, I know what that means. It’s the fire that burns in your third eye, right?” I thought about it and said, “You’re right. That’s it.” Even though I never thought of that before.
Best post-Jim Doors song
Ray, John, and I continued as the Doors for two albums after Jim was gone, and there were definitely some good songs there. But I think the best Doors song after Jim is called “Indelible Impression.” You know why? It never actually came out. [Laughs.] I was just listening to it the other day and was thinking I should put it out there for fans. We worked with Helena Springs, a really great session singer. We did an EP for her in the early ’80s and it never came out; it was one of those record company fuck-ups. I really love that song and I hope to get it out soon.
Most memorable concert riot
There were so many riots. I think the 1969 Miami show was pretty up there. Everybody talks about how horrible it was and how Jim got arrested, but that never happened until weeks later. During the concert, it was kind of messy. Jim was drunk, as he sometimes was, but we thought it was a pretty cool show. I mean, the audience loved it. After the show, the cops came upstairs, and we all had beers together. It wasn’t until a week or two later … these politicians heard about it and tried to make a big deal out of it, which they succeeded in doing. The stage collapsed. Jim called out to people, “Hey, come up on the stage!” John and I barely made it off the stage before it collapsed. It was fun.
I did Woodstock ’99 too, and [there was] some rioting going on, but it was kind of boring. I played with Creed and we did “Roadhouse Blues.” That was before the actual riot took place.
Song that reminds you the most of Ray
Obviously “Riders on the Storm” is a great Ray song, but the one that a lot of people don’t know well is “Yes, the River Knows.” It has one of the best piano parts of all Doors songs. Ray started off with classical musical when he was a kid and then he really got into blues when he was growing up in Chicago. It’s really a mix of those two disciplines. I’ve never heard anybody play like Ray. It’s so amazing. The other thing is his timing. His time is so good — the way he hears the time of the song. If you’ve ever watched our Hollywood Bowl performance, what’s amazing is that Ray starts the whole show with “When the Music’s Over,” which starts just with him playing the organ and the piano base. When he starts playing you notice that his timing is so perfect. And then John comes in with the drums after so many bars and beats. I think John got lost, or something, because he got hypnotized by Ray playing. He was just waiting forever to come in. It took him two minutes when it usually took 30 seconds.
Favorite guitar solo
It’s “When the Music’s Over,” because recording that song is one of my fondest memories with the Doors. The night before, Jim called me at one in the morning and said, “Hey man, you got to come over. Me and Pam are on acid. We took too much acid, we don’t know what to do, help.” So, okay. I go over to their place, open the door, and they’re both naked and freaking out. I told them we should all go outside, because we were right next to Griffith Park, which is a nice outdoor space. My thing with acid is it’s always better to be outside. It’s just better to be in nature. So we started going, and I said, “Wait a minute, you gotta put your clothes on first.” After an hour or two, they finally cooled down. They were digging around outside. And I said, “I’m going now. Remember, Jim, we’re doing ‘When the Music’s Over’ tomorrow, so don’t be late.” He goes, “Oh, no problem.” So I went to the studio the next day. There’s no Jim.
I didn’t know what to do. Ray suggested that we do the track and Jim could put his vocals in later. The problem was that Jim would do something different every time. How are we going to know when to come in on certain parts? Ray did and faked the vocals before Jim did the real ones the next day. Of course Jim came in and nailed it in one take; it was amazing. I never thought he could do that. A few weeks later is when I actually did my guitar parts. I had this specific sound in mind. It was almost like a violin sound but really fuzzy, too. Almost heavy metal, but real smooth. Paul Rothchild, who was our producer, looked in his bag and pulled out a diode. I had no idea what it was. He put it in the mixing board, opened up a couple channels, and had the idea to mix it in with normal sound. It sounded great. I did four or five takes of the solo. Each one was pretty different, but they all had good sound, so I was pleased and wanted to hear them in the studio. The people in the studio control room must have been getting kind of stoned, because two solos were accidentally played at once — one on the right and one on the left. I said, “Well, wait a minute, that’s two different solos. But let’s hear it.” It turned out to work perfectly together, and it stuck.
It was one of those happy accidents that end up for the best. And I just love that solo. Jimi Hendrix did solo mixing quite a bit, but that was at least a year or two later. He got that from me. [Laughs.] He stole my solo.
Most cherished memory of Jim
I would say writing songs with him. When we wrote songs, it was always an amazing experience. I’ve tried to write songs with so many people after his death, and it’s never as easy as it was with Jim. He had no ego about songwriting. He didn’t care about credit. It was just so cool to write. I mean, for example, we wrote “The End” together and at first it was just a little love song. When we started playing it live, it started to grow and grow. He was always making up the weirdest stuff and adding new little parts almost every night until it became the 12-minute song. Yeah, that was the most fun.
Unlikeliest Doors fan
I was watching Access Hollywood a few years ago and Carlos Santana was being interviewed for a segment. He was asked about his favorite band and he said the Doors. That was pretty cool. I never, ever realized that. I mean, we played together many times back in the day, but I never realized that he was such a big fan of ours.
Coolest cover pose
The first album cover. [Laughs.] There’s a specific reason. I’m wearing a blue polka-dotted tie. It was a tribute to Miles Davis, because on his album, My Funny Valentine, he’s also wearing that same tie.
More From The Superlative Series
- Miranda Lambert on Her Hardest, Riskiest, and Most Rewarding Music
- The Most Transgressive and Personal of Blondie, According to Debbie and Chris
- The Most Seductive and Poetic of Roxy Music, According to Bryan Ferry